Lobbying isn’t the problem; big government is

In Capitol Review, Notes by Mark Hillman

"When buying and selling are controlled by the legislature, the first things to be bought and sold are legislators." — P.J. O’Rourke.

Money spent on special interest lobbying at the State Capitol jumped 14 percent this year over last, despite measures like the so-called "Ethics in Government" Amendment 41.

Lobbyists’ contracts generated more than $11 million in just the first four months of 2007, according to a recent Denver Post report — the twelfth straight year that lobbying expenditures exceeded the previous year.

But before you fall prey to the common misconception that there’s too much money in government, take a step back.

If government didn’t control so much money and make so many laws that reach into our everyday lives, would these so-called "special interests" be spending so much money to influence lawmakers?

Of course not.

Most of us would prefer to keep our distance from government unless our families or livelihoods are threatened.  However, the ever-expanding size and scope of government mean that far more people either rely on government or find that its creeping inconveniences are becoming increasingly intolerable.

Combining the coercive power of government with the corruptibility of human nature is a recipe certain to produce abuse.  Any system that not only possesses the power to tax, but also to arbitrarily compel citizens to engage in certain transactions while forbidding others, has completely emasculated the disciplines intended to harness those excesses.

The way to take "big money" out of politics should be painfully obvious: reduce the size and scope of government.

In Washington, the federal government is now 250 times larger than it was a century ago.  Without reform, inflation-adjusted spending will equal $26,000 per household in only ten years.

Here in Colorado, spending is on the rise and the tentacles of state and local government are expanding into the private lives and businesses of Colorado taxpayers in ways that were unfathomable even 10 years ago.

Neither the constitution nor the courts represent any meaningful protection against populist whims or political expediency.  Even if government doesn’t seize your property, the Legislature seemingly has no compunction against micromanaging your business or dictating picayune details in the workplace.

In Washington, most politicians have abandoned the principle that Congress has only those powers specifically listed in the constitution.  Instead, they prefer an expansion of Congress’s regulatory authority over interstate commerce to govern activities that never cross stateliness.  Instead of adhering to federalist principles, they hijack education or health policy to pander to poll numbers.  Instead of tending to the business of government, they "investigate" professional sports.

But it’s not politicians alone who shoulder the blame; they merely reflect what voters seem to want.

Candidates rarely exhibit Barry Goldwater’s courage when he said that his interest wasn’t to streamline government or promote welfare but to defend the liberty of citizens.  Voters seem interested in liberty only when they perceive that their own is threatened — not when someone else’s liberty is at stake.

Too many of us have grown to believe that the purpose of government is to solve problems that we do not comprehend or cannot control – expanding government’s mission exponentially.  Principles of limited government are virtually forgotten in public schools and, therefore, foreign to most voters.

John Adams warned, "Liberty cannot be preserved without general knowledge among the people."

Limited government is a principle worth advancing – even at political cost.  It’s principles, when adhered to, deter corruption and protect individual liberty against populist whims and political ambition.

Limited government promotes personal responsibility, self-reliance and tolerance by recognizing that not every problem demands a government "solution."
Thomas Jefferson noted, "The natural progression of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground."

As government grows, the temptation to misuse it for personal or political gain multiplies.  Preserving meaningful limits on the size and scope of government protects taxpayers and protects politicians – from themselves.